UN Report Suggests Condoms are not the Answer to Aids Epidemic


According to a United Nations report released on June 23, the UN's massive effort to supply the world with condoms in a bid to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS is failing.

After exhaustive analysis of survey data from developing countries around the world, the Population Division of the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs has concluded that the ready availability of condoms has not significantly altered individuals' sexual behavior.

In "HIV/AIDS, Awareness and Behaviour," the Population Division bluntly asserts that "Much effort has been spent on promoting the prophylactic use of condoms as part of AIDS prevention. However, over the years, the condom has not become more popular among couples." The report goes on to claim that, despite widespread knowledge of AIDS and easy access to condoms, "Only a small percentage of respondents began using condoms to prevent HIV transmission. Fewer than 8 per cent of women in all countries surveyed reported that they had changed their behaviour by using condoms. Among married women, the percentages were particularly low."

The report claims that most women desire children, and are thus unwilling to use prophylactics that also act as contraceptives. The report states that "In a number of Western and Central African countries, the difficulty in promoting the use of condoms is compounded by the fact that the large majority of women who are sexually active intend to become pregnant; therefore, they are not likely to resort to using the condom."

In what may come as a surprise to "safe sex" advocates such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the report contends that the only significant behavioral change has been towards more monogamous relationships. The report states that, "Among those respondents, whether male or female, who did change their behaviour, the most frequently cited change had entailed confining sexual activity to one partner." The study also concludes that "In several countries, a significant number of men…reported that they had discontinued sexual contacts with prostitutes to avoid getting infected."

During the recent UN Child Summit, the US delegation's efforts to further encourage sexual abstinence and monogamy were defeated, mainly at the behest of the European Union. It is possible that, in light of the findings of the Population Division, the US position will gain prominence in future UN debates on AIDS prevention.

On May 24, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed former UNFPA head Nafis Sadik as his special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia. Under Sadik's direction, UNFPA was the world's largest supplier of condoms, and UNFPA's AIDS-prevention program focused overwhelmingly on the promotion of condom use. It is unclear how Sadik will integrate the conclusions of the Population Division report into her new initiative. According to a UN press release, Sadik will be responsible for spear-heading "an expanded, multisectoral response to HIV/AIDS" throughout Asia.


Austin Ruse. "UN Report Suggests Condoms are not the Answer to Aids Epidemic." June 27 2002.

Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required.


Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), follows the UN closely. He welcomes comments at austinruse@c-fam.org.

Copyright © 2002 Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute

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